5 Jul 2016

Is It Time For a Bigger Conversation about Mental Health?

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One of the most common things people say about mental health is that we need to talk about it more – and more openly (and with less stigma). And they’re right, of course. Secrecy, shame and harsh judgment make any situation – however hard – that much harder. That’s especially true of personal, intense, confusing and often excruciating mental health challenges.

SO much attention has gone to having more conversation about mental health that remarkably little attention has been paid to what kind of conversation we want to be having: How exactly do we want to talk about this rich and complex subject? What are the most meaningful questions and issues to consider? Whose voices should be prioritized in this conversation? And who should decide on the overarching assumptions, terms, and language guiding the conversation?

Thoughtful man.

After many years of studying the implications of common (and not so common) narratives at play in the U.S. discourse on mental health, we’re convinced that it’s time to do something more than only talking (more and more) about mental health in our nation.

As helpful as more attention can continue to be, we believe it’s also time to stop and pay some closer attention to the public discussion we’ve already been having – starting a conversation about our current mental health conversation: Is it doing its job? Is it leading people to higher levels of mental and emotional well-being? Is our current conversation reducing suicide and the incidence of depression or serious anxiety? Is it decreasing the burden of mental health problems in children?

For many, their answer to all of the above would be YES. From this perspective, the current mental health conversation has made things better as afflicted people increasingly accept both “life with mental illness” and the need for consistent dedication to associated treatments.

For others, the answer to all of the above would be NO. From this perspective, our best efforts to control or manage mental/emotional challenges have not brought the hoped for healing, at least not to enough people and not in a sustainable way, over the long-term.


So what to do? What would it take to help more people find deeper, more lasting healing? Is it time for a knock-down, drag-out fight between different philosophical camps and treatment approaches? (oh wait, that’s already happened, and wasn’t very helpful…!!)

How about waiting around for more research – the studies that will “definitely confirm the cause” of all this mental distress? (hold on, we’ve done tens of thousands of studies already…shouldn’t we know something by now?).

SO much research has been done, in fact, that it’s literally impossible for most people to make sense of the sheer baffling complexity, let alone the many interesting findings, discoveries, confusions, disagreements, and remaining questions. With researchers themselves barely able to grasp the enormity of findings, most of the general public remains wholly unaware. 

What if we started talking about THAT stuff – the interesting nuances in the research literature – especially those reflecting disagreement between thoughtful researchers and practitioners? In other words, rather than picking one approach – from medication to meditation – and declaring it to all the world as ‘the answer’…what if we did something ELSE?

Something truly radical…

What if we made space for a conversation BIG Enough that everyone who cares about mental health would be heard in their experience – and anyone offering something that could help alleviate suffering would be listened to and considered? (even and especially if it doesn’t fit your ‘box’ or my ‘box’ of what the ‘right approach’ should like).

In other words, what if we turned thoughtful attention to the disagreements we have about mental health, with a new level of curiosity, openness and willingness to SEE more than we already have? Imagine a coming together with fresh openness to all voices, all ideas, all possibilities…  

There really is SO much to talk about.  For instance:

  • What do discoveries of neuroplasticity (changeable brain) and epigenetics (fluid genome) mean for how we think about the role of the brain and body in mental distress?
  • What does it mean to recover – and is it even possible to achieve lasting healing with serious mental or emotional challenges? 
  • How can we truly help someone who is hurting – both immediately and over the long-term?
  • What’s the difference between short-term bursts of healing and the lasting, sustainable kind?
  • And overall, what needs to happen in order to improve mental health in the nation – and what are the primary barriers that need to be overcome in getting there?

In the months ahead, our team at All of Life will be exploring these questions in more depth. We’ll also be releasing resources designed to help individuals and families understand key questions and diverging perspectives Successin a way that helps them make choices that feel right for them.

That’s really our bottom line: people supported in making the best healing choices for them – aka, those that hold the best chance of leading them to long-term, sustainable healing.

Isn’t that what we all want in the end?

On that, I think we’re in 100% agreement.

Looking forward to the conversation!

              We need YOUR help

If you believe it’s time for a bigger conversation about mental health, please SHARE this with others you know. THIS bigger conversation depends on YOUR help. Thank you for supporting our mission by spreading this message! Lots more will be coming soon.

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